If there's one person who can truly appreciate the distinction of being appointed to a post usually reserved for expatriates, it's Ittipol Witjitsomboon of the Mandarin Oriental, who recently became the first Thai national in that hotel's chequered, 136-year history to be named F&B (food and beverage) director.
Although relatively young for the job, at just 40, this Bangkok native has been in the hospitality business for 22 years, the last 16 of them at this grande dame of the capital's hotel scene, where he started out as an assistant banquet manager.
While his gait and mannerisms suggest a modest, unassuming person, conversing with him on work-related issues brings out another side, revealing a self-confident man with a determination to show his mettle.
Ittipol's well-rounded knowledge of the local hotel industry, good business acumen and wealth of F&B experience convinced his superiors that he was the person for the job. His leadership skills have been revealed during numerous prestigious events that attract the rich and famous to this historic venue.
"I am humbled by this special opportunity that has come my way," he said. "With the position comes immense responsibilities that I do believe I will be able to accomplish with the support of a highly experienced and dedicated F&B team and direction from the general manger, Khun Amanda [Hyndman].
"It is my belief that success can only be achieved through teamwork. No one person can pull this off single-handedly. I don't profess to know everything, and will need assistance from the many talented and experienced members of the workforce in our hotel's world-class restaurants and retail operations. Together, I believe we'll be able to take the culinary experience at the Mandarin Oriental to even greater levels of success."
The softly spoken executive said he simplifies his goals by focusing on three key areas: guests, colleagues, and business partners. Despite his extensive experience in the job, he is very aware that every day can bring something novel, new things for him to learn from his colleagues or the hotel guests.
For Ittipol, success is only an arm's length away for those with a can-do attitude who are passionate about their work. "Working in a hotel means long hours," he said, "so if you're not truly passionate about your job, it can turn into a back-breaking experience, which can then lead to total burn-out."
The welfare and mentoring of his staff is high on his list of priorities, he said, because only when a person is happy "on the inside" is he or she capable of offering heartfelt service to guests. Ensuring his staff get adequate support is a major component in his approach to managing the department. To keep staff motivated and make sure they share his vision, he plans to keep the channels of communication open at all times so that they will feel free to confide in him. The environment in a hotel is such that no one individual should shine at the expense of the whole team. This, in his opinion, is the key to sustainable success.
Since all his F&B subordinates are seasoned operatives _ the average number of years in the job being 16 _ Ittipol believes that the real challenge for him is making sure they get the support they need to deliver a consistently high standard of service, 365 days a year.
Rather than tasks just being done by the book, service should come from the heart, he declared.
Asked to elaborate on the challenges currently facing the hotel industry, the man behind the success of numerous talk-of-the-town fundraising galas singled out the scarcity of qualified labour as being the most pressing issue.
While the Mandarin Oriental, with its venerable pedigree and worldwide reputation, is well positioned to choose the cream of the crop, its human resources department also believes in being proactive. To publicise job openings for new graduates, HR staffers regularly visit hotel and catering schools as well as local universities.
There is no room for complacency in a highly competitive sector such as the hotel industry, Ittipol noted, going on to suggest that young adults seeking hotel work should first ask themselves if they are genuinely passionate about making a career out of this. It should never simply be because the job offers attractive remuneration or an environment conducive to practising one's English, he cautioned.
At the Mandarin Oriental, he said, the attributes HR staff look for in potential employees include strong human relations skills, reliability and enthusiasm for the job. And if you do manage to catch the interviewer's eye, he said, then you can expect a promising career path, but one which entails a good deal of hard work, too.
Food and beverage sales is a top revenue earner for the Mandarin Oriental, according to Ittipol.
"This makes it all the more crucial for us to maintain impeccable standards and consistency in our service and food, not to mention the hardware [interior decor, furnishings], which is renovated regularly to give it a fresh look.
"Attention to detail keeps our standard of excellence up."
One of the biggest changes Ittipol has observed in dining habits over the years is that people seem increasingly pressed for time. To work around this, he said, meals are still served with all the pomp and fanfare that hotel guests expect, but work practices have been adjusted so that tasks are accomplished in a shorter length of time.
"We're in the business of selling an experience," he observed. "Our top chefs do a great job by cooking the way people like it. At the end of the day, our guests will tell us what they like and dislike. While we have to change with the times, we can't afford to lose our identity. We maintain our quality and consistency and pay great attention to the feedback we get from our guests. Our outlets continue to adjust to the needs and demands of our clientele."
Is the possibility of failure something he ever fears?
"If one puts one's heart and soul into achieving a goal, there's no reason why one shouldn't succeed. I am blessed with a great team of staff and I enjoy a close relationship with our business partners, so I am confident that, with the leadership of Khun Amanda, I can accomplish all the tasks that await me."
About the author
- Writer: Yvonne Bohwongprasert